Television Programs and Advertising: Measuring the Effectiveness of Product Placement Within Seinfeld

Student Researcher: Dana T. Weaver (MA Student). This paper was based on a graduate independent study.

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Mary Beth Oliver

For a complete report of this research, see:

Weaver, D. T., & Oliver, M. B. (2000, June). Television programs and advertising: Measuring the effectiveness of product placement within Seinfeld . Paper presented to the Mass Communication Division at the 50th annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA), Acapulco, Mexico.


Instances of product placement can be found in a variety of media entertainment offerings including television shows, videos, and popular movies, with this form of advertising considered by many as representing the "new genre of marketing tools". The present study attempted to expand upon prior research by exploring the effectiveness of product placement in television situation comedies. Specifically, the present investigation examined the effectiveness of product placement and advertising on viewer recognition and recall. In addition, this study also explored how the combination of product placement and advertising may affect recall and recognition. This study also extended prior research on product placement by examining brand attitudes. Although advertisers seem to have intuitively expressed concerns that their product placements appear in positive contexts, there does seem to be some theoretical rationale for assuming that product placement would result in more positive brand attitudes when the programming and the characters in the program are perceived positively by the viewers.


It was expected that, consistent with prior research, advertising and product placement would result in higher levels of recall and recognition, but that the combination of advertising and product placement would result in the highest recall and recognition scores. This leads to the following hypotheses:

H1: Advertising and product placement will increase recall of featured products, and the combination of advertising and product placement will result in the highest level of recall.

H2: Advertising and product placement will increase recognition of featured products, and the combination of advertising and product placement will result in the highest level of recognition.

For brand attitudes, applied to context of product placement, reasoning along the lines of social learning theory and heuristic models of persuasion would suggest that product placement would be particularly effective when the surrounding programming and characters using the product are perceived as enjoyable and attractive. This leads to the following hypothesis:

H3: Product placement will be more effective at increasing positive brand attitudes for viewers with more favorable attitudes toward the programming and characters than for viewers with less favorable attitudes.


Eighty-three participants took part in a 2 x 2 between-participants experiment in which participants viewed one of two segments of an episode of Seinfeld that contained product placement for either Diet Coke or for Heinz Ketchup.

The segment featuring Diet Coke employed a subtle presentation of product placement where a character is briefly shown taking a Diet Coke from a refrigerator and drinking it. The segment featuring Heinz Ketchup employed a prominent presentation of the product where a character in a restaurant is shown trying to get ketchup from a bottle by smacking the bottle. The resulting design meant that for a given product (e.g. Diet Coke), one of four conditions featured neither product placement nor advertising, one featured product placement but no advertising, one featured advertising but no product placement, and one featured both advertising and product placement. After viewing the stimulus, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires assessing recall, recognition, and attitudes toward both Diet Coke and Heinz.


H1: Partially Supported. For Diet Coke, analysis of brand name recall showed significant effects for advertising but not for product placement alone. For recall of Heinz, product placement resulted in significantly greater recall, but advertising had a more pronounced effect. None of the analyses showed indications that the combination of product placement and advertising was effective beyond that obtained by advertising alone.

H2: Supported. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, the analysis of recognition of both Diet Coke and Heinz revealed a main effect for advertisement, with recognition scores higher when the Diet Coke and Heinz advertisements were present. A similar main effect was obtained for product placement such that recognition scores were significantly higher when product placement was present than when it was absent. In addition to these main effects a significant advertising x product placement interaction was also obtained for Heinz such that inclusion of product placement alone resulted in recognition scores equal to scores resulting from advertising alone or from the product placement-advertising combination.

H3: Partially supported. The analysis of attitudes toward Heinz Ketchup revealed marginal support for the predicted interaction between product placement and attitudes toward the program such that when product placement was absent, participants with favorable versus less favorable program attitudes did not differ in their ratings of Heinz. However, when product placement was present, participants with more favorable attitudes toward the Seinfeld program reported more positive brand attitudes about Heinz than did participants with less favorable attitudes toward Seinfeld.


The results of this study generally suggest that product placement may well serve the advertisers best interests, and particularly so if the product placement is prominent and the programming in which it appears is perceived favorably by the viewers. Nevertheless, the criticisms surrounding this new form of marketing represent serious concerns that may ultimately serve to dampen the public's reaction to this type of advertising strategy. In essence, these concerns highlight the important message that what may well be best for the advertiser may not always be best for the viewer.

For more details/information about this study, please contact:

Mary Beth Oliver
Associate Professor
210, Carnegie Building
College of Communications
Penn State University
University Park, PA 16802
Ph: (814) 863 5552

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